Styx: Master of Shadows is a third-person stealth adventure game with a goblin as the protagonist in a quest to reach the limitless power of the Amber Tree.
With so many stealth games falling short of the mark, Styx: MoS looks back at traditional stealth games, with minimal and avoidable combat, multiple routes to objectives and logical progression of abilities and skills. However it’s not all smooth moves and silent take-downs with this title, as much like most modern stealth games, it is littered with missed potential in several areas, with but a few impressive mechanics here and there.
The first thing you’ll notice with Styx: MoS is the overly drawn out opening cut scene. It really drags on and will make you want to skip it before long. When you finally get into the game, the next thing you’ll notice is the art style. The game looks very much like a late entry into last generation console’s repertoire, with chunky body parts and clay like movement. This may have been deliberate, and doesn’t detract from the game in any way, but being released after a game like Ryse: Son of Rome, which had (if nothing else) beautiful visuals, especially considering it was a console release title, you’d think they would have done more to impress next generation gamers. However, the Heads Up Display (HUD) art was stylish and attractive, with a “drawn” look that fits well with the game. Occasionally, during cut scenes, items of clothing or limbs will stretch or warp for a moment, breaking immersion, but nothing game breaking and easy to ignore.
When you first start moving around you’ll notice that Styx moves relatively easily, the movement seems fluid and non-restrictive, with responsive controls. The game will run you through some basic mechanics by actually allowing you to experience real-time scenarios, where other games would just give you a screen with button commands then throw you at the game, Styx: MoS allows you to test each new mechanic yourself with a very simple, non-punishing first level. This makes learning the controls easy and fun, instead of a jarring halt in game-play and having to memorize what to do.
Being a stealth game, there are a lot of moments where you’ll be balancing on thin ledges, beams and walkways. Most modern games will alter your “walk” to allow you to creep along those narrow paths with ease, but Styx: MoS changes nothing, and will let you fall if you’re not careful enough. While this may seem like a flaw in the design, it actually feels natural, as it is now dependent on your skill to proceed, and not just done for you. This game doesn’t hold your hand through difficult parts, it instead teaches you to overcome them yourself.
With all of this said, there are a lot of things that could have been better, such as enemy detection. You could stand directly in front of an enemy, and like a lot of other stealth games, it will take a moment for them to notice you’re there, then another moment to realize you’re an enemy. Even on the hardest difficulty, it is very easy to just disappear again with no consequence. The enemies are slow and unintelligent, and they pose very little challenge unless you’re detected. If you do find yourself detected and facing combat, you are meant to parry the enemy’s attacks until the option to parry becomes the option to kill. Every fight is like this, a quick time event that relies on you to guess when it’s the right time to press “X”. If you fail your timing by a little bit one too many times, you’ll die and start the room over. This doesn’t get any easier with practice, as the timing to parry an attack feels random and unfair.
Something else that may annoy you is some aspects of the game taking far too long. First of all, the load times between re-spawns. If you died trying to parry an enemy’s attacks, or were detected in a stealth portion and required a re-spawn, you will be waiting on the load screen for up to two or three minutes, which seems like a suspiciously long time for a game like this. You can expect a wait time like that from a game like Fallout 4, with it’s expansive world and the sheer amount of information it needs to load, but a game like this should not require such a long load time. It destroys the game’s immersion and can put you off the game entirely.
Another unnecessarily long wait time you’ll notice is while lock-picking. It’s a one-button process which you hold down, while a circle meter fills to signify your lock-picking progress, however, the circle fills so slowly that it’s immediately noticeable. The game itself is not slow-paced at all, so quickly running stealthily through a level, ducking and weaving in and around unsuspecting guards just to stop and wait to pick a lock really puts a halt to the game-play. If the lock-picking sections actually had a lock you could pick yourself, then the time it takes would be purely based on your own skill and would make a lot more sense. If the developers want to take away the chance for you to pick the lock yourself, it only seems fair they make Styx a pro at it and unlock the door quickly.
However, one cool thing about the doors in Styx: MoS is the ability to look through the keyhole before entering the new room. A lot of older games featured this mechanic and it seems lost these days, but it’s a good mechanic and can help you make better decisions on how you should proceed.
The game also has other cool mechanics, like landing on a rug instead of stone will dampen the sound you make when dropping from a height, or hiding in chests and peeking out through gaps, or out from under tables while moving around and remaining unnoticed.
Unfortunately, some of these events are hindered by the tiny window for button activation. At one point, I had to move around a body to find the “Pick up Body” option and even the slightest movement cancelled the prompt, making it way too difficult just to pick something up, although this only seemed to be a problem occasionally.
Easily my most favourite part of this game is the Amber abilities. With these abilities you are able to do special things to help you in your quest, like creating and controlling a clone of yourself, turning temporarily invisible, and activating “Amber Vision” which is very similar to the visual mechanics in Assassin’s Creed or Watch_Dogs. These Amber abilities were key to completing some of the challenges a room may present, and were well thought out. The clone is especially useful and really gives a unique spin to Styx: MoS.
My biggest complaint about this game is the enemies. They are simply far too slow and unintelligent. They all seem to follow a pre-set path with very little variety. They are so immediately predictable that I eventually only faced combat in scripted moments, and almost never due to being caught while in stealth.
Over-all, this game is a lot of fun. Even with the flaws and long wait times, the game is a fun time-killer and is a nice breath of fresh air for stealth games.
Styx: Master of Shadows feels good to play, with tight movement controls during stealth moments, and a pleasant (if dated) art style. There are issues with combat and certain wait times however, so you may find yourself enjoying the game early on, but quickly becoming frustrated as the game progresses.
You wish you were as cool and popular as Ted.